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St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre

St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre

Photograph of St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre at present. (Source: Lee Everts)

Everything old is new again. Those words perfectly reflect the situation for St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre. Now almost a year old, the Centre has already demonstrated a needed role for hosting events in the Placentia area. Although not long ago, as many would recall, prior to being a cultural heritage centre, St. Luke’s functioned as a church. And since its inception centuries ago, this church has had a multifarious history, rich in details and complexity.

History of St. Luke’s

The most recent incarnation of St. Luke’s was a church built in 1905. However, it replaces a church built in the 18th century. And still deeper into the realm of history, this church was itself built on the site of the oldest Catholic church in Newfoundland. This original church was built in 1689 by the Récollets (Recollects) friars. However, there is an old map dated from 1662 that actually depicts a church built on the site where St. Luke’s is located. Yet, the church is potentially at least a century older.

This is an image of Domingo de Luca’s Last Will and Testament (Source: Placentia Area Historical Society)

Domingo de Luca was a member of a fishing expedition hailing from the Basque country. At the time, the Basques were in Placentia. It was no doubt part of a regular trip they would have been taking annually to Placentia where they would come to fish in the sixteenth century. Misfortune has fallen on Domingo de Luca during the year 1563. He had grown ill and eventually, he was to lose his life. However, before dying, he made out a Will and most notably, he requested that his body be laid to rest in Placentia.

“I ask that if the will of God Our Lord were served to take me by this illness from the present life, that my body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.”

His Will is now the oldest known original civil document written in Canada. Clearly, this must have been a place where his fellow countrymen had been laid to rest. It also implies there was indeed a location, at the time, where the Basque were laying to rest their people. It is no doubt the same location where Basque headstones were later located in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s. It was a Roman Catholic church at the time.

In 1903, Rt. Rev. Michael Francis Howley published a paper covering the work he had done in Placentia at St. Luke’s Anglican church. His efforts were in part intended to raise awareness to the fragile nature of the stones and how, if left, they would soon be lost. He focussed on several headstones, the oldest of which dated to 1676. However, one would assume this to be the identical location where, just over a century earlier, Domingo was laid to rest. Those Basque headstones are now on display at O’Reilly House Museum.

Noteworthy Citizens

An image of Richard Welsh’s grave marker (Source: Lee Everts)

St. Luke’s cemetery has also been home to other noteworthy citizens of Placentia. One of the headstones belong to Richard Welsh, a well-known figure who hailed from New Ross, Ireland. In 1753, Welsh began what was to become a highly successful merchant firm in Placentia. The headstones also tell of people such as Sir Joseph Blackburn or Elizabeth and William Hobson whose memories are also affirmed in the cemetery.

Image of St. Luke’s Anglican church built in the eighteenth century.

Not long afterwards, the English royalty of the 18th century also left its mark when Prince William Henry (later King William IV of England) came to Placentia as a Magistrate. In 1786, he presented the church with a silver Communion Service and a Coat of Arms. While the Service is now at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, the Coat of Arms is still to be found hanging in St. Luke’s Anglican church.

Next Evolution of St. Luke’s

Given its wealth of history, St. Luke’s Anglican Church was designated as a Registered Heritage Structure in 2011. However, the actual parishioners for the church had been dwindling and in October of 2020, it was closed and deconsecrated. It was then sold to the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS) for one dollar.

In recent years, during the summer months, the PAHS has been offering tours of the Centre. In the past year, several events were offered, including workshops for seniors by the Placentia Area Development Association and it served as a workspace for Colleen Tamblyn, as archaeologist working on ceramics from Fort Louis/New Fort. She also did two presentations at St. Luke’s entitled “Archaeological Ups and Downs” as well as “Ceramic, Colour and Community.” The Centre was also used for a book launch by local author Lee Everts, an international harpist who did a performance, individuals attending art classes and lectures, and an Escape Room Game in which the players solved puzzles to complete it.

Over the centuries, St. Luke’s has continued to evolve. Yet, from its origins some time in the sixteenth century as a place of worship for Basque fisherman thousands of miles from home to now, as a centre for cultural heritage, it is much the same. St. Luke’s remains at the heart of the community, a place where people come to express themselves, share and find some sort of peace.


Barkham, Michael M. 2014 “The Oldest Original Civil Document Written in Canada: The Last Will of Basque Sailor Domingo de Luça, Placentia (Newfoundland), 1563” University of Cambridge

Exploring Stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition at Fort Louis

Exploring Stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition at Fort Louis

Math, models and multidimensionality were the words that flitted in and out of Colleen Tamblyn’s talk on the 24th August at St. Luke’s, a former church now largely a community centre. Her talk, entitled “Archaeological Ups and Downs: Exploring Stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition at Fort Louis” focussed on introducing the preliminary ideas and concepts that will serve as the foundation for her dissertation.

As Colleen explained, the crux of the story is how, when, and why something was used, as well as how, when, and why it was discarded. Over the centuries, Placentia has witnessed the comings and goings of countless groups. The discard patterns that have developed over this time have, in turn, formed depositional layers with the oldest at the bottom and the most modern at the top. Each layer is distinguished by a complexity of colour, texture, and also smell, something Colleen added is another distinctive quality some may miss.

Archaeology is, by its nature, a destructive undertaking and science. Hence, archaeologists are prolific note-takers. The abundance of notes and different typologies are then used to form what is known as a Harris Matrix, after the man who first conceptualised the idea, Dr. Edward Harris.

The Harris Matrix is based on what archaeologists know as the Law of Superposition—the layers at the bottom are the oldest while those at the top are the newest, provided they are undisturbed. The Harris Matrix, Colleen notes, “reflects the relative position and stratigraphic contacts of observable stratigraphic units, or contexts.” It’s a standardised framework, she says, for additional research which allows one to use the layers to determine when something was occurring.

Offering a vertical timeline based on the excavated record, the Harris Matrix means one can assign years to artefacts without relying on historical records. After all, with the Harris Matrix, the archaeologist knows where certain ceramics or other items are located in relation to others. So, it’s either older or younger dependent on where an item is located in the Harris Matrix.

Remember Colleen’s 5 fs? Form, From, Function, Fragility, and Faïence. These will come in handy when assigning points to specific ceramic pieces. Afterwards, this will go on to pave the way for the construction of two dimensional, three dimensional, and multidimensional models.

Using the Harris Matrix, Colleen can compare specific types of ceramics across the entire site in two dimensions by using the 5 Fs. The end result will permit her to create stacked bar graphs that can also allow inter-event comparison.

In three dimensions, it’ll be possible to have the Harris Matrix down one side with the site map across the top to create a form of diorama. This will allow an archaeologist to get an overall sense of how items are being used and then discarded.

For a multi-dimensional model, interpretation lies between data points, yielding something referred to as meta-data or data about data. Using mathematics, it will be possible to prove the existence of wealth patterns that Colleen can see, but she can’t yet prove. By assigning points of value to each of the 5 Fs and similarly assigning points of value to the ceramic pieces, she can create meta-data. The meta-data, in turn, can shed light on methods of wealth that Colleen could only previously indicate with images.

Ultimately, the idea will be to understand how the three models express data and how this also varies amongst them. There is a considerable amount of work left to do in order to hone the techniques Colleen will be using, but thus far, she is confident they hold much promise for her work.

In her conclusion, Colleen confirmed what many sought to hear. As she notes, Placentia, in her words “is so culturally dense. There is so much here that I am amazed that nothing’s been done except put it in a box. So there will be people who come after. I am the first of many.” Her words were no doubt music to the ears of everyone listening.

The Hidden Mysteries of Ceramics

The Hidden Mysteries of Ceramics

Trust me. Step back in time and take a moment or two to look around. There are secrets to be revealed, mysteries to solve. And if you have someone like Colleen Tamblyn as your guide, you’re sure to not be disappointed.

Colleen has spent a month in Placentia doing the initial phases of her research of Fort Louis ceramics. While in Placentia, she was headquartered in the former St. Luke’s Anglican church, now a community building owned by the Placentia Area Historical Society. And on the 28th July, 2021, Colleen gave a presentation of her work thus far on the ceramics of Fort Louis, a fort that was built by the French when they controlled Plaisance, the term they used for Placentia. Her efforts have been guided by a firm commitment to the community. She stated how she wants her work “to be accessible to the people that the research is for, as much as possible.” Notably, she’s committed to involving the community in the archaeological investigation which will “allow the community to engage with their past.”

As Colleen poignantly explained, she wants to give people an opportunity to “touch history,” to be able to “put a 400 year piece of pottery in your hand and think, oh my gosh, I’m holding something that somebody 400 years ago held and drank out of and survived out of.”

To lay the groundwork, Colleen eagerly discussed French history that spans vast distances, its arms reaching from the deltas of Louisiana in North America to the rice paddies of Asia and numerous places between. The actions in these far reaching regions would go on to play a significant role in the evolution of Plaisance.

Colleen then explained how either in 1655 or 1658, the first people arrived in Plaisance, their survival placed now in the hands of mercantile ships from Boston anchored in the harbour. In 1663, the French soon began to construct the first of several forts—Vieux Fort atop Mount Pleasant. It was none too soon because 1672 would be the first of three long wars that would rage and largely determine the place of France in the colourful history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Centuries later, beginning with Jean-Pierre Proulx in 1969, historians and archaeologists began trying to decipher and unearth this history. As one of those archaeologists, Colleen has chosen ceramics to be the lens through which she will explore the Placentia area’s history.

For the initial prodding of Colleen’s research, many of her questions had been posed by people coming to see her display at St. Luke’s, one being why look at ceramics in the first place.

She noted how ceramics provided an ideal platform by which to study history, as there are a wealth of typologies which have been developed to classify the pieces focussing on qualities such as colour, material, patterning and so on. One can then obtain information on price and deduce ceramic usage. From this information, it’s possible to understand the nuances of wealth and to better understand how wealth has changed over time.

Another question wondered how this would all be done. Colleen responded by explaining how she had arrived at what she termed “Colleen’s Five Fs” of ceramic analysis.

Colleen’s Five Fs of Ceramic Analysis

FormWhat does the vessel look like?
FromFrom where does the ceramic come? What is its origin?
FunctionWhat is its intended purpose?
FragilityWhat would it take for this vessel to break?
FaïenceHow decorated is the vessel?

She stated that when taking these into account, one arrives at the cost or perceived cost of a ceramic. Understanding these qualities she explained allows her to track cost, figuring out patterning styles and exploring “the psychology of a colony that was given up on.” In so doing, there are a multiplicity of factors that muddy the waters.

Colleen discussed how certain vessels are found in the excavation at a layer that does not make sense. But factors such as some being heirlooms would explain this confusion. Otherwise, they may be plundered goods. Any number of other factors place the ceramics where they are not supposed to be.

Another question that materialised for her, amongst many others, was where all the money went that was being given by France. The forts were notoriously short on uniforms and other items and as far as Colleen was concerned, the missing money was certainly not in the ceramics. But she pointed out that several of the governors had been recalled for “discharging their duty badly,” a hint to Colleen that they were likely “lining their pockets.” This will no doubt be another side avenue her research may take.

Colleen has done excellent work in her initial explorations into the ceramics of Fort Louis in Placentia. She will likely face considerable obstacles in her efforts to build an “interconnected network of wealth expression,” as well as in her attempt to explore patterns of usage and consumption in Fort Louis as well as Placentia as a whole. However, if her work to the present is any indication, she is more than up to that challenge.

New Book Release

New Book Release

Here’s the latest book I’ve written! As you may know, I commonly write non-fiction. Although, I thought, this time, I’d try my hand at fiction! It’s available here at Amazon!

The story revolves around Quin who has left Newfoundland and Labrador for the other side of the country, following her twin sister Fin’s suicide. But unable to come to terms with her sister’s death, she decides her best chance to deal with the trauma is to return home.

Back home, she encounters other challenges. But on a trip to the grocery store, she meets her favourite old English teacher from high school. In time, Quin begins looking out for him, making sure he gets his groceries or goes to the doctor’s office. And eventually, she learns about the true identity of her English teacher, something that will change her life forever. Moreover, it will also ask her to question everything she thought she knew about her sister’s death. Ultimately, will she be able to walk that hard road to forgiveness?

I sincerely hope you enjoy the read!

Capelin Time

Capelin Time

Capelin time is something many must feel in their bones. Maybe there’s something about the weather and the wind that tells them, yes indeed, the capelin will be here soon. And when that time arrives, for generations, people have quickly shared the news the capelin are rolling—where and when to meet. Nowadays everyone has a smartphone at hand and within a second, the word has gotten out. And like clockwork, people begin the appear at places like Point Verde beach with their rubber boots on, nets in hand, all ready to get their share of the annual bounty from the sea.

It’s a time that many can share as a common tradition, one that bound ones forebears to the sea as strongly as it does those in more modern times. Along the shore, children run and try to collect some of the capelin, all under the eye of proud grandparents who look on with a knowing smile. They can no doubt remember when they were no bigger, for the first time greeting the capelin. Our lives have changed considerably over the decades and years, yet still the capelin remain a unifying element.

Years ago, the majority of the people who call this place home were strongly tied to the sea, fathers and mothers striving to make a life from whatever could be caught in various known locales such as Cape St. Mary’s. Although, it was always a double-edged sword, that deep and penetrating love of the sea. For as everyone accepted, with little grudge, sea could both give and take. Still everyone knew in their hearts and understood, that was the deal.

Nowadays, some people remain tied to the sea, somehow making a living in the fishery. However, it is a shadow of what the fishery used to be in this once-a-country province. And perhaps, every year, as we wait expectantly for the capelin to roll, it is perhaps a poignant reminder. It is a homage paid to a time when virtually everyone’s life was firmly secured to the sea and its many riches. Like the fishery, waiting for the capelin remains today as a harmonising element for the various communities that ring the coastline.

There is something comforting about sharing an activity with our community. It’s one of those sentiments that brings us together. We know the terms, what to do and we share a love for this tiny creature who annually graces our shores.

On the day, countless people arrive for the festivities. Some only go to watch the activities while others, pail in hand, are determined to gather as many fish as they can. After all, there are always grandparents or members of their families who are now too old to participate in the rhythmic surge forward to gather the capelin and then back again as the tide recedes. All the while, people are laughing and joyously splashing, splendidly soaked.

Capelin time is an annual event that is rejoiced simply in part by its expectation. And when it arrives, amidst the splendour of the day, it somehow brings with it an assertion of the rightness of our world.

Placentia Area Theatre d’Heritage (PATH)

Placentia Area Theatre d’Heritage (PATH)

Early Years

Since 1993, the vibrant and unique history of the Placentia area has been brought to life by the Placentia Area Theatre d’Heritage (PATH). Casting their spell, their acting troupe has effortlessly transported their audiences back in time. It may be to the very early years of Placentia when the French and English were in a vice grip, each vying for control of Placentia. At other times, the plays have taken residents and visitors alike to sometimes boisterous, sometimes sombre times that characterised the more recent decades of the Placentia area.

It all began in 1992 when Parks Canada expressed an interest in boosting the visitors who would journey annually to Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC). The idea was to make the visit to Castle Hill NHSC a more stimulating and delightful experience. Was there a way to inject some life and energy into the history that characterised the region during the time when Castle Hill and its array of forts guarded Plaisance? This was from around 1693-1811.

After meetings with various local groups, the answer seemed to be some kind of theatrical performance or programme. And so, Placentia Area Theatre d’Heritage was born. The first play was a ten minute vignette produced by the Royal Re-enactors, the name adopted by the students who wrote the play. Then, in the following year, Sheilagh Guy Murphy put pen to paper, writing and researching “Faces of Fort Royal.” It was performed for the first time in 1994. Since this point, it has become the signature piece of PATH. After its inaugural season, PATH would commit itself to finding unique ways to perform and share the rich brocade of history that defined the Placentia area.

In Recent Years

PATH produced “Mysterious Visitors,” in partnership with the Atlantic Charter Foundation. Written by Agnes Walsh, the play was set in 1941 and revolved around a few local residents who were curious about the hubbub that seemed to have arrived in their tiny corner of Newfoundland. It was, of course, what turned out to be the historic meeting of Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and President Delano Roosevelt of the United States. Musicals such as “An Evening with the USO” took audiences back to the 1950s, a time when the United Service Organization (USO) visited the United States Naval Base in Argentia.

PATH has remained as one of the groups and organisations at the cultural heart of the Placentia area. Their goal has not only been to bring life to the history of the region. It has also been their willingness to be a valuable member of their community, be it in their efforts to encourage students to spread their wings on the stage or in the support that PATH offers to local businesses.

They recently added a new addition to their office which will serve as a box office and no doubt additional space for things such as wardrobe and props. PATH is certainly growing and evolving. And given its current history, there is every indication that PATH will remain as one of the cornerstones of the culture and heritage of the Placentia area.

The Placentia Area Development Association — A Goal in Mind

The Placentia Area Development Association — A Goal in Mind

As it so often does, life presented the Placentia Area Development Association (PADA) with a simple problem. Either you change or you go down. It’s your choice. Well, PADA made their decision and the result has been close to a re-birth.

PADA is a not for profit Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that is comprised of a democratically elected volunteer Board of Directors whose mandate is to drive social and economic development of the area and region.

Dealing With the Challenges

Like the rest of the world, Covid presented PADA with numerous additional challenges. However, even before Covid, the writing was on the wall. Already Tiffany Hepditch, the Executive Director and only full-time employee of PADA, along with the board, were fighting a losing game. The days of core funding for rural development groups like PADA had been discontinued and many Rural Development Agency’s didn’t survive. But PADA has.

PADA is well known in the region for their sponsorship and facilitation of federally and provincially funded programs. These are largely focused on skills development and employment strategies for those actively seeking employment, but are struggling to do so.

Likewise these projects also generate economic spin-offs for local businesses. All the funding is reinvested back into the business community through local spending. Still, while these initiatives are considerably extremely beneficial to the community, the financial kickback to PADA is minimal.

Finding A Way Forward

Since its inception in the early 1970s, PADA had always been largely focussed on programmes that stimulated the economy. PADA has been involved in a vast amount of development activities. But following a Targeted Initiative for Older Workers (TIOW) programme, where they took seniors and re-immersed them into the labour-market, things began to change. The approach of PADA became more concentrated on the social-cultural needs of the people who participated. And having done the TIOW, they were left wondering “what else can we do?” Tiffany explained how initiatives such as TIOW were “based on a need from the community. And once we did it, it was like people were knocking on our door.”

PADA responded and placed more attention toward providing projects that served the community. Tiffany explained how “that’s where we are and so it’s more a response to the community as a whole. People come in still and say, ‘when are you doing another computer training course?’ or ‘when are you doing another paint class?’

Always with their eye on the community they serve, PADA realised the community was craving programmes that were more focused on the social aspect and inclusiveness. However, at the same time, PADA is hyper aware of the importance of its role to the economic grindstone of the community. They will continue to inject money into their community through programs and projects. Through these initiatives, PADA are able to, on average, employ 50 people annually. PADA Board and staff have always felt that PADA is a group built upon the heart of the community. They like to say they don’t provide a hand-out, but rather a hand up.

PADA’s efforts and evolution since the early seventies have clearly been no small achievement. In addition to their sponsorship of projects focused on social and economic development, they work in partnership to facilitate a children’s summer recreation program. They operate the Argentia Sunset RV Park in partnership with the Port of Argentia. PADA is also involved with salmon enumeration activities at Northeast River.

Determined to Survive

The challenge that lies ahead is survival, especially after the economic impacts of Covid. It is the only alternative if PADA is to continue serving their community. Luckily, they are up for the challenge, much as they have always been.

The organization is shifting to meet the evolving needs of their community and region and are actively seeking opportunities to improve the economic and social well-being of the community. In the end, that’s what it is really all about. As Tiffany explains, we are really lucky in Placentia. There’s a lot happening in the area and PADA has an exceptional partnership among stakeholders who are always striving to do more and to do better to accomplish the common vision.

Perhaps the only downfall is that more often than not, it is short-term. So, when a particular project has run its course, everything is packed up until another project is found. Tiffany explains that such an outcome doesn’t take away from the unquestionable benefits of short-term projects. However, the ultimate goal would be sustainability of these types of initiatives year round. Many would note how to be ongoing is a great idea, but show them the money.

Surviving and Thriving

Tiffany’s response is a feeling there has actually been almost a “co-dependency on funding.” In response, she explains how PADA is shifting away from the need for funding and the idea that if there is no funding, the project can’t go ahead. Her response would be, ‘well, why not?’

She notes it can be easy to find “the ten reasons why we think we’ll have a problem instead of talking about the one reason we can get past it to get to the solution. I find that’s where we can all get caught up sometimes. I think that’s normal.” Still, in order to accomplish their goal towards serving their community, PADA needs to side-step the invariable obstacles. And they’ve learned they can. Tiffany explains, “it’s just about being willing to take a leap and being super creative in how we do it.”

There’s a line from a song “Fallen Man’s Daughter” that encapsulates the plight of PADA since inception: “Balance your goals, turn your back to the cold and move forward.” According to Tiffany, that’s exactly what she and her board have been doing. And it’s very much what they will continue to do.

Source: Tiffany Hepditch

O’Reilly House Museum – Change is in the Air

O’Reilly House Museum – Change is in the Air

A photograph of O’Reilly House Museum

It’s All About Change

Since 1989, the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS) has been refurbishing and reinventing the O’Reilly House Museum, one of its primary holdings. This past year has been no exception. A more recent holding was added last year, as well.

In recent years, the PAHS decided to radically change the interior of their museum. Headed by members Vera Greene and Christopher Newhook, the PAHS decided to exchange rooms for their displays on the top floor. So, the “Resettlement Room” exhibit changed places with the “Master Bedroom” exhibit.

Also on the top floor, they transformed what was once the “Maid’s Room” into the “Basque Room” which holds some notable displays such as the authentic Basque headstones. These were at one time in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s Anglican Church. Other artefacts are reminiscent of the period in the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the Basque fished the waters of Placentia Bay. One, in particular, is a copy of the Last Will of Basque sailor Domingo de Luca from 1563. In it, he asked to buried in Placentia. The Will also happens to be the earliest civic document found in Canada. The PAHS made additional changes by exchanging the “French/English Room” with the “Notable Citizens Room,” alongside altering much of the design and layout of the museum.

A Leap of Faith

Beside these modifications, the PAHS made another significant leap by taking over the ownership of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, a building that is adjacent to the museum. After deliberations with the Anglican Council, St. Luke’s was sold to the PAHS for the sum of a dollar. It had suffered due to the inability of the existing parishioners to care for it and so, it had been closed and de-consecrated.

A photograph of St. Luke’s church.

With its rich and interesting history, St. Luke’s, a Registered Heritage structure, will be comfortably at home under the protection of the PAHS. Although the church and the building have changed, St. Luke’s sits on a site of considerable age. A building on St Luke’s site is believed to have been used by the Basque when they first landed in Placentia, in the sixteenth century and possibly earlier. Several other churches have been built on the site in past including what was probably the first Catholic church in Newfoundland.

With the addition of St. Luke’s, the PAHS has not been idle. They’ve been offering tours of the church during the summer. In addition to these changes, there are hopes to broaden the role of St. Luke’s. The idea will be to retain the current look and feel of the church for continued tours in the summer. However, in addition to tours, the PAHS is hoping to also rent out the church, in order to raise funds for its upkeep. For instance, the Placentia Area Development Association recently ran workshops for seniors on topics such as hooked mats, as well as art instructions by local artist Christopher Newhook. For several years, St. Luke’s has been to location for “Winter Solstice,” an event intended to celebrate local talent. The goal is to continue this activity in the future.

If these changes are any indication, the PAHS will continue to be a main driver of change in the landscape of the Placentia area for years to come.

Source: Tom O’Keefe